One woman’s journey to find the lost love her grandfather left behind when he fled pre-World War II Europe, and an exploration into family identity, myth, and memory.
Years after her grandfather’s death, journalist Sarah Wildman stumbled upon a cache of his letters in a file labeled “Correspondence: Patients A–G.” What she found inside weren’t dry medical histories; instead what was written opened a path into the destroyed world that was her family’s prewar Vienna. One woman’s letters stood out: those from Valy—Valerie Scheftel—her grandfather’s lover, who had remained behind when he fled Europe six months after the Nazis annexed Austria.
Valy’s name wasn’t unknown to her—Wildman had once asked her grandmother about a dark-haired young woman whose images she found in an old photo album. “She was your grandfather’s true love,” her grandmother said at the time, and refused any other questions. But now, with the help of the letters, Wildman started to piece together Valy’s story. They revealed a woman desparate to escape and clinging to the memory of a love that defined her years of freedom.
Obsessed with Valy’s story, Wildman began a quest that lasted years and spanned continents. She discovered, to her shock, an entire world of other people searching for the same woman. In the course of discovering Valy’s ultimate fate, she was forced to reexamine the story of her grandfather’s triumphant escape and how this history fit within her own life and in the process, she rescues a life seemingly lost to history.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Author Sarah Wildman is the granddaughter of Dr Karl Wildman, a Jewish Viennese newly-minted doctor who fled Austria after the Anschluss in 1938. He, his parents, his sister, brother-in-law, and nephew were the lucky ones who "got out". They were able to settle in the United States and within a couple of years of hard work they all prospered. Dr Wildman was able to establish a medical practice in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. He joined the US Army and later married an American-born woman and they established a family together. But Dr Wildman left many people he loved "behind"; those who were not as fortunate as the Wildman family, those who didn't "get out" in time.
One of the loved ones Karl Wildman left behind was his girlfriend, a fellow medical student at the University of Vienna, Valerie "Valy" Sheftel. After Karl's death, his widow told the family that she had thrown away a lot of her husband's personal items. The name "Valy" had come up in family conversation and...
Beautiful thought provoking book. Excellently written, captivating story of the writer's grandfather's girlfriend, a woman he left behind when he fled to the USA; she eventually died in the Holocaust. The search for this woman, an educated doctor from Vienna, leads to an ever darker path of racial laws and smaller and smaller possibilities to survive. I would guess that the author is inspired by Daniel Mendelsohn's "The Lost", at least I read them both back to back and found that these two books were complimentary to eachother. I think the most interesting part about Paper Love is how it describes the US attitude towards Jewish refugees from Europe - shockingly, they did what could be done to prevent them from coming, making it as difficult and expensive as possible - and the very vivid way the author, through the story of the Jewish doctor, after a while in the heart of the Reich, in Berlin; describes how every door is closed to the Jewish citizens, one by one, until deportation is...
I chose a 4 star rating because I felt that some parts of the story were repetitious, but I thought the book, overall, was well researched and tenderly written. The heartbreaking story of love and life lost; the disappearance of a woman, symbolic of many lives lost, in the holocaust. Although I've been taught, talked with my parents and read fictional stories about the holocaust and the history leading up to WWII, this book gave me such a realistic view of what it was like to live during that time... the pure survival instincts needed, the impossibility of navigating systems designed for failure and the daily insult of having your life disappear before your eyes. I believe this book has changed me in a deeply personal way. Although I am not Jewish, like most of us, I have friends and family who are. I wonder how the past has influenced their lives and what we, as a society, can do to prevent the horror from happening again... especially in light of hat has since happened in...
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